Federal Judge and Former Prosecutor Sterling Johnson Jr. ’66 Dies at 88


Hon. Sterling Johnson Jr., ’66, a Senior Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, passed away on Oct. 10 in Queens, N.Y. He was 88 years old.

Johnson entered Brooklyn Law School in 1963, while he was an officer with the New York City Police Department, switching to night police work so that he could attend classes at Brooklyn Law School during the day, according to the New York Times.

In 2019, Johnson taught Brooklyn Law School students refugee law at EDNY Day. He was one of 22 federal judges from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York who took part in EDNY Day at Brooklyn Law School.

During Johnson’s time as a federal judge, the Times noted, he was best known for ordering the closing of a Guantanamo Bay detention facility, which he referred to as an “H.I.V. prison camp” for Haitian refugees, and for ruling that New York City had failed to adequately help poor residents who had AIDS.

He presided over civil and criminal cases at the federal level in the Eastern District of New York for 31 years. Prior to his appointment in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush, Johnson also served in a variety of other public roles over nearly three decades.

As the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for the City of New York for 16 years, he supervised assistant district attorneys and investigators responsible for the preparation and prosecution of more than 7,000 criminal cases. He also was executive director of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, and a member of the United States Sentencing Commission. 

Johnson was long involved with the National Black Prosecutors Association, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the Presidential Drug Advisory Council, and task forces on promoting minority representation in the judiciary and gender, racial, and ethnic fairness in the courts, the Times noted.

Johnson served as a guest lecturer at many U.S. universities and law schools, as well as in various countries throughout the world. Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Johnson received his B.A. from Brooklyn College and was a U.S. Marine for three years.